Not even among parents of the dead was there a consensus Monday on how the General Assembly should respond to the murders of 26 students and staff members last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Among the more than 1,300 people who lined up to testify on gun control, legislators invited three to skip the line: Mark Mattioli, Neil Heslin and Veronique Pozner, each the parent of a first grader killed at the Newtown school.
One saw no need for new laws, while the others said legislators must act to restrict access to weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15, the semiautomatic .223-caliber rifle used by Adam Lanza in his assault on Sandy Hook.
Mattioli said no tougher gun law would have saved his 6-year-old son, James, from Lanza, who shot his way into Sandy Hook with a Bushmaster that belonged to his first victim Dec. 14, his mother, Nancy Lanza.
“I don’t care if you named it James’ Law. I don’t want it,” said Mattioli, accompanied by his wife, Cindy. “There are common-sense laws out there. There are breakdowns on how they are being enforced.”
Mattioli was in accord with the majority of those at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, where hundreds wore round yellow stickers that labeled each wearer: “Another responsible gun owner.”
One after another, in allotted three-minute increments, they told legislators that bans on semiautomatic rifles or large-capacity magazines would hamper their ability to defend themselves.
“Do not target me as you seek solutions to our violent society,” said Michael Leone, a gun owner from Southington, who said “a bad man with a gun can only be stopped by a good man or woman with a gun.”
Others said they did not trust government.
M. Peter Kuck, a member of the State Firearms Review Board who has clashed with State Police over gun-permit issues, asked legislators if they were willing to risk a police conflict with gun owners by legislating the seizure of banned magazines or firearms. His question provoked applause from gun owners.
“They don’t trust us. We don’t trust them,” said Kuck, who is suing the State Police over a demand he prove citizenship when he renewed his pistol permit in 2007, a demand he suggested was harassment.
William Kuhns of Prospect, who says he has carried a gun for self-defense since being shot during a gas-station robbery about a decade ago, said legislators could expect to see acts of civil disobedience if the state sought to seize weapons.
His Facebook page promotes OathKeepers.org, whose motto is, “We will NOT obey orders to disarm the American people.”
The hearing ran past midnight.
Heslin, the father of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, who was killed by Lanza, was puzzled by the protests, by the assertions that their families will be unsafe if they are limited to 10-round magazines, as is proposed by one bill. He said the U.S. has the world’s strongest military and well-trained police departments.
“We’re not living in the Wild West,” Heslin said.
Heslin, who grew up hunting, said he was wary about a widespread ban on firearms, but he also said he could imagine no reason why Nancy Lanza or any parent would have owned a weapon like the AR-15, a semiautomatic modeled after the military’s fully automatic M-16.
“The sole purpose of those AR-15s or AK-47s is to put a lot of lead out on the battlefield quickly, and that’s what they do. And that’s what they did at Sandy Hook Elementary School on the 14th,” Heslin said.
When he wondered aloud why such guns should be privately owned, someone shouted, “The Second Amendment shall not be infringed!”
Heslin spoke while holding a gilt-framed portrait of him and his son, taken when Jesse was a baby.
Heslin said he brought his boy to school that morning, kissed him good-bye and assured him he would return shortly to help his class make gingerbread houses for the holiday season.
“I just hope some good can come out of this,” Heslin said.
Pozner, the mother of 6-year-old Noah Pozner, whose twin and another sister survived the attack, urged legislators to ban weapons like the Bushmaster, which Lanza had equipped with a 30-round magazine.
Police estimated that Lanza, who killed his mother before his assault on Sandy Hook, fired 150 rounds in minutes at the school.
Under state law, some weapons similar to the Bushmaster are defined as assault weapons and banned, but Lanza’s rifle was not, mainly because it lacked a bayonet lug, flash suppressor or folding stock.
Pozner said the legislature needs a tighter definition of assault weapons, as well as a ban on high-capacity magazines.
“Possession of any assault weapon, regardless of the date of purchase, ought to be illegal,” she said. “Mandatory surrender of these newly illegal firearms, with financial compensation, as was done in Australia, ought to be given serious consideration.”
The state assault-weapons law passed in 1993 banned the future sale of such guns, not the ownership of weapons previously purchased.
Pozner placed a photograph of Noah beside her. It was a little blurry, taken with a cellphone the night before his death as he lit a Chanukah candle.
“Noah loved being alive,” she said. “He took large, hungry bites out of every day.”
The hearing was the second of four scheduled by a bipartisan legislative task force created after Sandy Hook.
Last week, a subcommittee held a hearing on school security; Tuesday, another subcommittee will take testimony on mental health laws. On Wednesday night, the task force will hold a general hearing at Newtown High School.
In a news conference before the hearing and then in testimony, the gun industry asked legislators to move slowly.
Lawrence G. Keane, the senior vice president and general counsel of a trade group, the National Sports Shooting Foundation, said the manufacture and sale of firearms generates $1.75 billion in annual economic activity in Connecticut and is responsible for about 2,900 jobs.
Keane and other industry representatives said they favored measures directed at preventing the unauthorized access of firearms, not restrictions on the manufacturer or sale of guns. They backed stricter background checks on purchasers.
The presence of officials from Colt’s Manufacturing of West Hartford, O.F. Mossberg of North Haven, Sturm Ruger of Southport and some smaller gun and accessory makers, including Stag Arms and ASC Ammo Storage, both of New Britain, was a calculated reminder that guns mean jobs.
Jonathan Scalise of ASC, which sells 30-round magazines for the AR-15 for $14, said he and others in the gun industry feel the losses of Newtown as keenly as anyone.
“I’m the father of four, three who are in elementary school,” Scalise said. “I live about 25 miles from Sandy Hook.”
The industry says that in addition to the 2,900 employed directly by gun manufacturers in the state, another 4,400 jobs are generated by gun-related economic activity.
After she testified, Pozner was asked if she found it difficult to come before so many people opposed to her on gun control.
“It was difficult at first. But then I realized I needed to speak my piece,” she said. “I think I’ve earned the right to do that.”
Follow Mark Pazniokas on Twitter @CTMirrorPaz
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